Enviros cry foul at Florida utility’s solar program plans


By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

SOLAR COSTS: Florida’s largest utility company wants solar sign-ups to pay for new solar installations.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Environmental activists are battling a solar energy plan that won’t charge nonparticipating customers higher rates.

Florida Power and Light, the state’s largest electric utility, is proposing a pilot program it says will expand the use of solar power in the Sunshine State while offering customers a choice.

“For customers who care deeply about advancing clean energy — including those who may not have the ability or desire to install their own solar systems — we are proposing to create a voluntary, community-based partnership that is designed to help grow solar in Florida without costing a penny for those who choose not to participate.” said Eric Silagy, president of FPL in a statement.

The plan will be reviewed Tuesday by the Florida Public Service Commission, the state utility regulatory body.

If approved, FPL will install new solar-powered generating facilities in Sarasota, West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale. The program could expand further across the company’s 35-county territory.

The price to customers: $9 per month.

Opponents, like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, say that’s not fair.

“The best practices include that participants in a shared renewable energy program should receive tangible economic benefits on their utility bills,” reads a SACE statement filed with the PSC.

On top of available federal tax rebates and local tax incentives, the group wants solar participants to receive payments or credits to their utility bills in relation to the amount of solar energy produced. SACE also cites other programs that allow for 25-year fixed rates for customers who buy in to community solar projects.

Other interested parties include the Washington D.C.-based Sierra Club and Vote Solar.

“We know that some of our customers have an affinity for solar power, but we also know that for a variety of reasons, many are not able to install it themselves. This pilot program will allow us, along with the PSC, to truly gauge customer interest in supporting solar power,” said Silagy.

To sweeten the proposal, FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy, is offering environmental groups cash.

If approved, NextEra Energy’s charitable foundation will pay $200,000 a year during the three-year pilot to nonprofits dedicated to “environmental protection and community development.”

New solar customers would pick which groups get money. But the utility giant would supply a list, including Everglades Foundation, Save the Manatee Club and the Florida chapters of the National Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy.